Do you struggle with essay structure? Have you been told that your essays are too vague, or not focussed enough? If so, this post is for you.
One of the reasons people struggle with essays is that essays can appear to be creative, intellectual masterpieces. It’s common to get writer’s block even thinking about an essay. If you cannot possibly write anything new or unexpected, why bother? In fact, how do you even get started?
The starting point of course, is to remember that you are not expected to be convincing people of anything new. Instead, you are writing to prove you understand a topic, and have thought about it yourself. In fact…
You Are A Tour Guide!
The best advice I ever saw on writing essays, is to think of the essay as a guided tour. Imagine you are giving a tour of the Earth’s architecture to a group of aliens.
You can’t possibly visit everywhere on Earth on your tour. You have to create an itinerary of places which are typical of the Earth, or which show outstanding representations of the Earth. In the same way, in your essay you are not expected to talk about everything to do with your subject. For a short essay, choose just three topics with case-studies to focus on.
Of course, you can’t just whisk people off on a tour. They need to know from the start where they are going and why. No surprises! You introduce the tour with an essay statement. “This essay will be looking at Earth architecture, with a special consideration of ancient religious sites, medieval warfare sites, and modern cityscapes.
Before each case study you need to take a connecting flight. You can’t jump straight from Caerphilly Castle to New York city. Introduce the paragraph and what your reader needs to focus on. At the end of the paragraph, make links between the cities and the main subject of the tour – why is New York important for architecture?
While you are in each place, you need to show your reader what there is to see. Stay focused! Just like on a tour, your reader can’t skip between the cities, they need to look at each place carefully when they are there. You also need to give a commentary on each place – you are the tour guide. The places cannot talk for themselves, so you need to explain why they are important. Try to be authoritative, and explain where you got your information. “The Great Pyramid of Giza is almost unique because of the engineering skills needed to create it, 4500 years ago (Kellogg’s, 1995)”.
After visiting all three locations on the tour, including the connecting flights and the commentaries, you are ready to finish. Give your passengers a last recap of the tour. What have they seen? How does this fit with the topic? Where could they go next if they wanted to encounter more? “Future tours could compare Asian and north American cities”.
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By Lee Raye
Lee is a PhD candidate at Cardiff University with degrees from Aberdeen and Oxford. He has written two books, digitalised another and written several academic papers. He has been interviewed by National Geographic and presented papers at eleven different national and international conferences and seminars. Lee’s native language is English and, if asked, he is always happy to help students with their English spelling and grammar.